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Thanksgiving Perspectives in History, Faith, and Popular Culture

Fr. Neofitos Sarigiannis before the Holy Chalice at St. George Greek Orthodox Church.

By Sophia A. Niarchos

Oyster Bay, N.Y. — When President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in the last year of the Civil War, Fr. Demetrius Nicoloudakis, a Lincoln aficionado and pastor of St. Matthew’s Greek Orthodox Church in Blandon, Penn., reports, “he called upon his fellow citizens ‘in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens….

I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens recommending to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to [God] for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.’

“The central act of worship in the Orthodox Christian Tradition is called ‘Eucharist,’ the giving of thanks to God for sacrificially offering His Son fully joined to our human realities,” Fr. Demetrius expounds. “Through the Cross and Resurrection, death is mortally wounded and God’s Kingdom begins its invasion of this world to rebirth humanity and restore Paradise, the reality of which we taste with every reception of the Eucharist. Every local Eucharistic community are the people accepting the invitation to partner with Christ to further uncover the Reality established by His incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension. This means that each local parish is called to make a significant difference in the community in which they are present, reaching out and drawing the world into the embrace of Jesus directly extended in and as Church. This means doing far more than food festivals for our own budgets and occasionally going to help at a food shelter. It means being a community that knows and is thankful for the ultimate Gift of God’s Son, and partnering with Him to share those blessings with the world around us.”

“Our Lord has given us everything. What do we offer to Him in gratitude this Thanksgiving?” asks Fr. Neofitos Sarigiannis of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Schenectady, N.Y. 

“As we enter the holiday season let us ponder on the many gifts we have received from the Almighty. In the United States this year, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day on November 25. The Eucharist, η Θεία Ευχαριστία, “Holy Thanksgiving,” is our main sacrament as Christians. It is the Divine Liturgy, Holy Communion. So, in a way, for us Christians, we celebrate Thanksgiving all year round especially in every Divine Liturgy where Holy Communion is always offered. This is the ultimate gift from above that is given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ; and we humbly offer thanks by our entreaties of  “Lord Have Mercy” in preparation to receive the Holy Gifts. Our response of preparation and celebration during this time is an expression of our gratitude. We pray that all the saints and our Holy Virgin Mary soften and open our hearts for the Lord to be firmly planted in our souls this holiday season. May this Thanksgiving be for all of us a blessed time with friends and family. May our Lord heal, guide, and have mercy on us all.”

Fr. John Vlahos, Protopresbyter of St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Shrine Church in Greenlawn, N.Y., addresses the misconception in popular culture that happiness makes us grateful.

“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful; but the gratefulness that makes us happy. Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance; it turns chaos to order, confusion to clarity. Gratitude can turn a meal into a feast; gratitude can turn a house into a home and a stranger into a friend.”